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Come Grocery Shopping With Me


Editor’s Note: In order to provide a glimpse into her life in Cochabamba, Bolivia, missioner Catherine Sullivan takes her readers with her on her weekly grocery shopping experience.

Every Saturday morning, my site partner Allison and I head out to do our weekly grocery shopping. With a list in hand (along with a price ‘guestimate’ so that we’re sure to stay in budget) and our same plastic stitched grocery bags over our shoulders, we walk the five blocks to our market.

We greet the woman doing money exchanges on the corner, greet the woman squeezing and selling fresh orange juice, and arrive at our market. You can easily recognize it by the row of fruit vendors outside, selling fresh fruit stacked high on their carts. Everything from mangos and  chirimoya to apples, pineapples, bananas, grapes, strawberries, and avocados are available almost all year round.

After greeting Doña Migelina, our strawberry vendor, we head inside to our regular market stalls. In a large, warehouse-like space right off of the main street, over 100 vendors work their individual stalls, selling everything from dish detergent and cat litter to produce, meat, and beyond. You just have to know which vendor to go to.

Dna. Mariel holding up the alpaca blanket that she made with her own two hands

Dna. Mariel holding up the alpaca blanket that she made with her own two hands

These past eight months, Allison and I have been very intentional about forming relationships with our vendors – making sure to go to the same women every Saturday morning and forming a friendly rapport.

First, we usually go to the two women we have known the longest – Dna. Juana, our vegetable vendor, and Nanci, our dry goods vendor. Their stalls are right across from one another so we spend a lot of time there.

Catherine and Allison with dry goods vendor Nanci

Catherine and Allison with dry goods vendor Nanci

Dna. Juana has a stall stacked with a plethora of brightly-colored, fresh vegetables. Though we usually go with our regulars of onions, spinach, and tomatoes, we sometimes splurge for an eggplant, a few artichokes, or even some asparagus or brussel sprouts.

One of the greatest things about Dna. Juana is that she will always tell you why the price of a certain vegetable has changed (and they do, regularly). It was from her that we first found out about the terrible drought in Bolivia because the price of tomatoes had skyrocketed.

Next  we move on to see our egg vendor, our lemon vendor, our cheese vendor (who gives us free tastes of new cheeses each week), our general dairy vendor, and occasionally our meat vendor. We finish our shopping by getting various  fruit from different women who sell produce out of wheelbarrows along the street.

There are so many parts of my life here that are so important to me – that have become so life-giving, and are often very  hard to explain to friends and family back home. “I love grocery shopping” does not stir up images of these beautiful markets and beautiful people.

Flower vendor when Allison and Catherine bought new plants

Flower vendor when Allison and Catherine bought new plants

My weekly trip to the market–seeing those familiar faces, sharing a few stories and smiles, that same walk to and from the house–has become a symbol of establishing a real home for myself here, and a real community. So thank you for coming grocery shopping with me today and experiencing a big part of my life here.

Reflection Question: How can you see recurring or necessary trips such as grocery shopping as an opportunity to form relationships? Challenge yourself to take an extra few minutes to make sure you fully acknowledge the people you come in contact with on a regular basis.

Catherine Hope Sullivan is the youngest of five children raised by a sassy Italian and a historian of world religions. Thanks to them, her younger years were filled with new and interesting people from every walk of life. Forever a Belle, Catherine graduated from the all-women’s Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, IN, with degrees in English writing and Italian (and an unofficial degree in female empowerment). Catherine has a serious passion for world travel because of the amazing people and traditions one encounters in every part of the world. She chose overseas mission to serve and learn from every person she meets. She has been in Cochabamba, Bolivia, since January 2016.